As expected yesterday, the American and US Airways merger is now official, and it’ll be an interesting few months to observe the industry. There are tons more questions than answers, though I figured I’d share my thoughts on two of the questions I’ve been asked most often on the award ticket front over the past couple of days:
- Should I burn my American/US Airways miles now or keep them for when the merger is complete?
- What happens to existing US Airways Star Alliance award bookings once US Airways leaves the Star Alliance? Will they be honored?
Let’s start with the first question. Yesterday I shared my thoughts for why the merger may be positive for frequent flyers in the short term. Within a few months you’ll probably be able to transfer points freely between the two frequent flyer programs, match status, etc. We now officially know the new airline will belong to OneWorld, but there’s a chance that there will be a brief period where you’ll be able to redeem American miles for travel on Star Alliance by transferring to US Airways, for example.
So should you burn your American and US Airways miles now? My answer is the same it usually is — miles are a currency that earn no interest and devalue at an incredibly fast rate, and there’s a huge cost to holding them. So there’s no reason I’d hang onto miles unless you don’t have a use right now.
US Airways still has some real gems on their award chart, like traveling from the US to Asia (via Europe if you’d like) in business class for 90,000 miles, or traveling from the US to Australia (via Asia if you’d like) for 110,000 miles in business class. American also has some gems, like Cathay Pacific to South Asia for 110,000 miles in business class or 135,000 miles in first class. It’s anyone’s guess when US Airways will leave the Star Alliance (though I think we’ll know very soon) and also whether miles will be transferable between programs before any devaluations occur.
So I’d continue to burn miles if you have a specific award in mind, though I wouldn’t burn just for the sake of burning miles out of fear of a devaluation. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to use your US Airways miles for travel on Cathay Pacific in the next year and also a fairly good chance you’ll be able to use your American miles for travel on ANA/Lufthansa/Thai before US Airways leaves the Star Alliance.
The other question I’ve frequently been asked is regarding Star Alliance award tickets booked with US Airways miles, and whether they’ll be honored even for travel after US Airways leaves the Star Alliance. The answer is absolutely. If history is any indicator, you’ll be able to redeem your US Airways miles for travel on the Star Alliance till they formally leave the alliance, and travel for subsequent dates will be honored.
The challenge is if there’s a schedule change on a Star Alliance award reservation after US Airways leaves the alliance. If the schedule change is so bad that it requires rebooking, chances are they’ll accommodate you on American/US Airways, even if it requires opening up award space on their own flights. In the event that it’s for travel to a destination not served by American/US Airways, they should still have an alliance liaison that can handle these situations on a case-by-case basis. So, if, for example, you book a Thai Airways award from Tokyo to Bangkok and Thai Airways cancels their flight, chances are that an alliance liaison could restore the segment for a different date without too much trouble. If it’s really far along in the merger after US Airways has formally joined OneWorld, there’s a chance they may just accommodate you on a OneWorld airline instead.
Lastly, if you run into irregular operations on a Star Alliance award ticket it’s typically up to the airline operating the flight to accommodate you. So if you book a US Airways award for travel on Lufthansa after US Airways leaves the alliance and you end up misconnecting due to a late Lufthansa flight, it would be up to Lufthansa to accommodate you on an alternative flight.